Book Chat June 2015

Book reviews contain affiliate links.


There’s a lot going on in The Upper Zoo. The story is told by Jonathan Richman, an 8th grader who, as an underachiever, has been placed into a special class known as the “upper zoo” (yes, there’s also a lower zoo, and those kids are in even worse shape). The story takes place in the early ’60s, before we were all so careful about bullying, etc. A lot of bullying happens, mainly by Upper Zoo member Robey (the cool kid) against most of the other kids in the class.

Robey doesn’t like Gwen, a girl in class who Jonathan develops a crush on, or Clarence, an autistic boy who is decidedly different, but who has many savant-like skills that definitely don’t warrant him the derogatory labels Robey saddles him with.

Many issues play out in this book in addition to bullying: domestic abuse, Jewish/Christian differences, stigmas of the 1960s, and more. Although the book was disturbing in parts, I enjoyed it overall for its portrayal of the era and just for the story itself. Several things happened that I wouldn’t have predicted, and I enjoy that in a book.



Being quite an Anglophile myself, I was bound to enjoy  A Fine Romance: Falling in Love With the English Countryside.

This book consists of the author describing her journey with her husband on the Queen Mary cruise ship across the Atlantic to England, where they spent almost two months. This all, of course, sounds like quite the dream, and I think that’s what’s so appealing about it. Her husband dotes on her and indulges her whims (visiting places she loves multiple times, etc), she has friends in various spots who offer her lodging in their charming cottages, she brings along a dozen-plus pieces of luggage, etc. In short, it’s a way of travel I’ve never known, but it certainly sounds lovely! The look of the book itself is different — not printed, but handwritten. There are hand-drawn illustrations interspersed with photos and bits of memorabilia from the trip.

The descriptions are similar to those I make of my trips: the moments of sheer excitement at seeing locales one has previously only read about, the allusions to songs and bits of literature that relate to the spot. There is beautiful description of the plants and nature there, and although God is never mentioned (which struck me as odd), the book kept bringing to mind God’s handiwork nonetheless.

“Loverly” little journal which anyone who loves to travel, or who loves England, will enjoy.



The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest, written by Melanie Dickerson, is a historical romance fiction novel.  The main character, Odette, hunts in the margrave’s forests to help local families survive.  Several aspects of this story reminds me of Swan Lake (main character’s name, etc).  I love this author and all of her books, and am excited to read her future novels.

4.5 / 5 stars

Thanks to BookLook Bloggers for a review copy, and thanks to Sophie, age 14, for the review. She loved Dickerson’s earlier book, The Fairest Beauty.


bb Do you have any habits, good or bad? Of course you do — we all do. So, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives has potential to interest all of us. The author, Gretchen Rubin, wrote a previous book called “The Happiness Project” in which she documents small things each of us can do to make our lives happier. I haven’t read that book, but I’d heard of it. Since this is her latest, I decided to read it.

The book is interesting; it’s written in a very conversational style that made me feel like I was talking with a friend or reading a blog. Rubin first talks about 4 types of people: upholders (that’s me; we like to follow rules), obligers, questioners, and rebels. The type of person you are will determine how you go about creating habits, and how you can more easily create good ones or banish bad ones.

I found many interesting tidbits, among them —

  • The people around rebels must guard against accidentally igniting their spirit of opposition. The best way to wrangle a rebel is to give him/her the information to make a decision, present the issue as a question that he alone can answer, and let him make a decision and act without telling you. Audience = expectation, and if he thinks there is no audience, there will be no need to rebel.
  • A high percentage of ministers are rebels. One explains: “Clergy think of themselves as called and therefore different. They have the blessing of their colleagues, congregation, and God, which sets them above many things in life, including rules.”
  • It’s important to understand these four personality types. It’s easy to assume that the steps that work for me work for others — but habits don’t operate that way. Different solutions work for different people.
  • With many habits, we need to be ready to make a change before we’ll be successful: “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”
  • With habits, people tend to be abstainers or moderators. Abstainers do better quitting something “cold turkey.” The question “Could you eat one just square of chocolate every day?” (I could not) is a good way to distinguish abstainers from moderators.
  • When trying to develop a new habit, try the strategy of pairing — for instance, every time you walk out of a room, take with you an item that needs to go to the room you’re going to. Or, do some minor housecleaning every time a commercial comes on TV. Soon, each time you hear a commercial, you’ll be in the habit of cleaning — without even thinking about it.

I liked this book overall, although I did find it to become repetitive. Additionally, I have “liked” the author’s Facebook page, and I’d read much of the info from the book from things she’s posted there already. I feel like I know enough of her method at this point that I don’t need to read her book on Happiness. Interesting if you enjoy a casual narrative style and are interested in the topic of habits.

Thanks to Edelweiss for a digital review copy.

Check out what others are reading at 5 Minutes for Books, and at Modern Mrs. Darcy.

8 thoughts on “Book Chat June 2015

  1. I feel like I’ve seen A Fine Romance before, but I hadn’t added it to my TBR list – so now I have. Rubin’s book also looks very interesting – the idea of different “habit personalities” makes a lot of sense to me. I definitely know from years of having my sister as a roommate that my sister and I have very different ways of establishing and maintaining habits.

  2. Susan Branch’s book does sound like a delight. Interesting reverse psychology in dealing with a rebel in Rubin’s book. I’ve yet to read that Dickerson novel but have enjoyed the ones I have read.

  3. A handwritten-font book? Sounds interesting. I like books that are not only different in words, but also in presentation. I’ll have to look into A Fine Romance.

    I’m getting behind in reading Melanie Dickerson’s books. She is such a sweet woman. We used to go to the same church. I’m pleased that her books are doing well!

    I loved The Happiness Project; I did it for a year-long project a few years back. I need to read Better than Before soon. You make it sound so interesting.

  4. Intrigued by your book choices and just put some of them on my reading list. I’ve read a few Dickerson books and have enjoyed them all.

  5. I think I would enjoy “A Fine Romance.” I’m reading a good one now — written by George W. Bush’s press secretary, “And the Good News is …”

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